After last night’s 22-hour Lords sitting there was some relief for the exhausted peers today. They began their new stint after lunch and it ended at about 4.30pm.
I’m told the atmosphere was more co-operative than yesterday’s spiky and brittle exchanges. The peers smoothly worked through four batches of amendments during the afternoon – but 130 amendments still have to be ploughed through by February 16. (That is because 10 weeks are needed before the May 5 referendum on the new voting system).
It is not impossible that peers may have to endure another all-nighter tomorrow with the session not starting until 3.30pm. (They still have to finish the committee stage and get through report stage and third reading).
There have been rumours in the Lords corridors that a compromise is in sight that could put an end to the interminable filibustering. With little else to do this evening, I’m told, the Labour and Tory teams – whose offices are in the same corridor – are likely to have a quiet chat about a way through the impasse.
Labour is still insisting that it wants to split the two halves of the bill (AV and boundary changes) and would then wave through the AV element. Ultimately though it seems likely to compromise if it is offered two things. 1] An independent and public system of arbitration over decisions on constituency boundaries and 2] Allowing MPs seats to vary in size by up to 10 per cent, instead of the 5 per cent proposed. Neither of these seem like the kind of issues over which Lord Strathclyde (pictured, Tory leader in the Lords) would die in the ditch over.
For now, at least, the government is playing hardball. A Downing St source tells me that the referendum will proceed on May 5 or Labour will take the blame for the extra £17m cost. (It’s cheaper to have it on the same day as local elections). “There is no appetite for striking up a deal,” he insists. But expect a more nuanced position, or even a deal, by the weekend.